Undocumented Puerto Ricans

The government of Puerto Rico has introduced a policy that stands to leave millions of island and stateside Puerto Ricans without a valid identity document. This appears to be a poorly developed policy that Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño must revise.

The policy, scheduled to take effect July 1 of this year, invalidates all birth certificates issued in Puerto Rico. It also bans the submission of original birth certificates to public or private entities within the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico. The new birth certificate is $5, a cost that would be waived for veterans and people 60 and older.

The new policy, as Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock told El Diario-La Prensa recently, is aimed at curbing an underground market for Puerto Rican birth certificates among undocumented immigrants. McClintock said the policy was prompted by a federal government report highlighting an alarming rate of fraud using Puerto Rican birth certificates--supposedly 40 percent of identity theft cases.

This, it turns, is not the case. Long Island University Professor Jose Ramon Sanchez cites the Federal Trade Commission in highlighting that in the United States, the total number of identity fraud cases in any year is 10 million. The Puerto Rico-originated cases of fraud initially cited by McClintock were specifically passport fraud cases, out of a small pool of 8,000 cases. So the Puerto Rican cases represent only 0.00032 percent of identity theft, according to Sanchez’s analysis.

Both the Puerto Rican government and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have said the problem is that different island institutions have requested the submission of original certificates and that poor storage puts and theft put these documents at risk.

This makes the ban on submitting multiple couples of an original birth certificate sensible. But voiding all certificates, even for Puerto Ricans born on the island but raised their entire lives in states, seems to be an exaggerated reaction. We are still waiting for numbers from DHS on the question of how many times a Puerto Rican certificate has been used to illegally cross a U.S. border.

Puerto Rican officials have not explained how a new “enhanced” birth certificate would work and whether it is proven to prevent fraud, nor have they offered the name of the company that would handle this work and what the selection process entailed.

Yet another issue is how an administration that barely has a stateside infrastructure to reach millions of Puerto Ricans and that has severely cut its own governmental workforce would handle information dissemination and the processing of requests. Puerto Ricans could be affected by a voided certificate or a delay, if they rely on benefits that require it, for example.

McClintock has said the Puerto Rico should not get a deluge of requests because most people use a passport or driver’s license for identification.

This is an assumption. And it is a denial of reality as well: most people would want to have an original birth certificate when the document they currently possess is invalidated. McClintock’s response also reflects the government’s out-of-touch attitude. When people in both Puerto Rico and the continental United States are counting their pennies at supermarkets, $5 is an unfair burden. Congressman José Serrano and Latino Justice PRLDEF are among the leaders and organizations that have raised concerns about this policy.

All of this brings us to two fundamental questions: who really benefits from this policy and how well was it thought out?

The prevention of identity theft is most certainly important. But the government of Puerto Rico has a responsibility to retract its messy policy until further independent study is conducted and until there is transparency around the conversations and numbers used to justify its decision.

Source: El Diario la Prensa NY


Spring Equinox Areito Gathering 2010

Bronx, NY (UCTP Taino News) - Taino People prepare for their Spring Equinox Areito Gathering in the South Bronx, NY on Saturday, March 20, 2010. The gathering was hosted by Taino Iukaieke Guainia.

UCTPTN 03.21.2010


Taino prepare for change in season

UCTP Taino News - March 20 is recognized around the world as symbolic of the seasonal change. Spring will be welcomed north of the equator while the cooler temperatures of autumn are expected south of the equator. Indigenous Taino throughout the Caribbean and the Diaspora will celebrate this change in season during various ceremonial observances marking the vernal equinox.

Consejo General de Tainos Borincanos for example has organized an equinox ceremony in the Trujillo Alto area of Boriken (Puerto Rico) while members of Taino Iukaieke Guainia will hold ceremony at Brook Park in the Bronx, New York. Community member Ana Carmona, a Boriken Taino community member will lead a ceremony in Costa Rica.

Carmona states that “the equinox is a time of beginnings, creativity, and positive changes.” She hopes that community members will “open their hearts to all the opportunities that life has to offer during this sacred time.”

An equinox occurs twice a year -- in March and September -- when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world. This year on March 20 at precisely 1:32 P.M. EDT, the Sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator.

UCTPTN 03.19.2010


Census 2010 Celebrates Taino Heritage in Ponce

UCTP Photo: Some of the participants of the 2010 Census Taino heritage celebration at the Tibes Ceremonial Center in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Ponce, Boriken (UCTP Taino News) – The 2010 Census Road Tour celebrated Taino heritage at the Tibes Ceremonial Center in Ponce, Boriken (Puerto Rico) on March 4, 2010. The event included participation from local elected officials, Census Bureau representatives, Taino community members, and the general public. The program was an official collaboration between the U.S. Census Bureau, the honorable Dr. María Meléndez Altieri, Mayor of Ponce, and the Boriken Liaison Office of the United Confederation of Taino People.

The event opened with a prayer in the Taino language presented by Lizzy Sarobey, Director of the cultural group Wakia Arawaka Taina. Opening remarks were presented by representatives of the Mayor’s Office, the Census Bureau, and UCTP representative Roger Guayacan Hernandez.

“The indigenous category was taken off the census in Boriken (Puerto Rico) in the year 1800” stated Roger Guayacan. “We now have the opportunity to write ourselves back into history.”

The UCTP Liaison Office also distributed specific information on how local Taino community members could identify themselves in the census questionnaire. The Confederation is urging local Taino to fill out the census questionnaire by choosing American Indian for Race at question 9 and writing in Taino as ‘principle tribe’. Individuals can also choose ‘Puerto Rican’ as Ethnicity at question 8.

“Some people have been confused by the questionnaire” said Roger Guayacan. “They think that the American Indian identification only applies to U.S. mainland tribes but that is not the case.” He continued stating “The Census Bureau defines American Indian as individuals of indigenous origin from throughout the Americas.”

2010 Census Questionnaires are expected arrive to households in Puerto Rico and the U.S. around mid-March.

UCTPTN 03.10.2010


Latin American countries agreed to create new regional bloc without US and Canada

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, left, accompanied by Bolivia's Justice Minister Nilda Copa, talks during a press conference after the closing ceremony of the Rio Group summit, on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen, 68 kms, some 42 miles, south of Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010. Leaders of 32 nations have agreed to create a new regional bloc including every country in the Americas except Canada and the U.S. (AP Photo/ Israel Leal)

Cancún, Feb. 23 (ANDINA).- Leaders of 32 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean have agreed to create a new regional bloc including every country in the Americas except Canada and the United States.

The countries agreed to create the bloc at the Rio Group summit ending Tuesday in Mexico.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the new organization will defend democracy and human rights and foster cooperation among Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Cuban President Raul Castro was one of the first to laud the announcement during the final summit session broadcast live on television as a historic move toward "the constitution of a purely Latin American and Caribbean regional organisation".

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said yesterday in Washington that the United States did not see the new grouping as a problem.

The new grouping was expected to serve as an alternative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which includes the North American neighbours and has been the main forum for regional affairs in the past half-century.

However, Valenzuela said this should not be an effort that would replace the OAS.


Shock over voided Puerto Rican birth certificates

WASHINGTON - Native Puerto Ricans living outside the island territory are reacting with surprise and confusion after learning their birth certificates will become no good this summer.

A law enacted by Puerto Rico in December mainly to combat identity theft invalidates as of July 1 all previously issued Puerto Rican birth certificates. That means more than a third of the 4.1 million people of Puerto Rican descent living in the 50 states must arrange to get new certificates.

The change catches many unaware.

Julissa Flores, 33, of Orlando, Fla., said she knew nothing about Puerto Rico's law.

"I was planning a trip and now I don't know," she said. "Do I need to go get a passport? If my birth certificate is invalid, am I stuck here?"

People born in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, are U.S. citizens at birth. Anyone using a stolen Puerto Rico birth certificate could enter and move about the U.S. more easily, which could also pose security problems.

Puerto Rico's legislature passed the law after raids last March broke up a criminal ring that had stolen thousands of birth certificates and other identifying documents from several different schools in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans on average get about 20 copies of their birth certificates over their lifetimes, said Kenneth McClintock Hernandez, the commonwealth's secretary of state.

This is because they are regularly asked to produce them for such events as enrolling children in school or joining sports leagues. Schools and other institutions have typically kept copies, a practice prohibited under the new law since January, McClintock said.

As much as 40 percent of the identity fraud in the U.S. involves birth certificates from Puerto Rico, McClintock said he was told by the State Department.

"It's a problem that's been growing and as the need in the black market for birth certificates with Hispanic-sounding names grew, the black market value of Puerto Rican birth certificates has gone into the $5,000 to $10,000 range," McClintock said.

Thus far, there seems to be little effort by the U.S. or Puerto Rican governments to educate the 1.5 million people born in Puerto Rico and living on the mainland about the new law.

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., has been getting a steady stream of calls about the law at his district office. Serrano - who must replace his birth certificate, too - said he is trying to provide answers without triggering a panic.

"No one has thought about what effect this could have, if any, on those of us born in Puerto Rico who now reside in the 50 states," Serrano said.

McClintock said a news conference held in Puerto Rico in December did not draw national media attention he hoped would spread the word. He noted there is no deadline for getting a new birth certificate. After July 1, the government will issue a temporary, 15-day certificate for those who need a birth certificate in an emergency.

The State and Homeland Security departments are deciding what to do for passport applicants with invalid birth certificates, State Department spokeswoman Adriana Gallegos said.

For now, Puerto Ricans are learning about the law from each other, news reports and community groups. The information isn't always correct.

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, said he found out about the new law through an e-mail from a Latino public policy group.

"You have to be plugged into networks to learn about it," said Vargas-Ramos, whose father and sisters were born on the island.

Conchita Vallecillo, 66, of Fairfax, Va., read about the new law in a Puerto Rico newspaper. She thought her age exempted her. "I didn't think we would be affected, so it's one of those things that you don't pay attention to," said Vallecillo, whose husband and four children also were born in Puerto Rico.

There is no exemption for age. The law only waives the $5 fee for a new birth certificate for people over 60 and for veterans.

Emilio Perez, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, traveled to Puerto Rico to gather his own information on the new law. He planned to post the information on the chamber's Web site to help get information out.

About 47 percent of people of Puerto Rican descent in Florida, or 377,000 people, and 29 percent, or 318,000, in New York - states with the largest Puerto Rican populations - were born on the island.

Source: Associated Press